The AT Series: A Weighty Matter

Many devoted long-distance backpackers — of which I am not — talk about gear weight with the same passion a violinist might display when speaking of a Stradivari. These are people who weigh their toothpaste on kitchen scales, zeroing in on cutting a couple ounces to avoid one extra squeeze remaining. I respect that dedication and appreciate that I have neither a kitchen scale nor a desire to talk about one. In fact, as someone who passed the “Pandemic 15” en route to the “Pandemic 23,” I have no desire to talk about weight at all.

But there lies the rub:

You cannot plan a long-mileage trek without addressing weight. If my pack is too heavy, I’ll pay for it in many ways. If my pack is too light, I’ve probably forgotten food or water or clothing. Unless I find the right balance, there’s a good chance I won’t finish my walk. So, let’s talk about weight.

Camp Stoves
The “vintage” Peak 1 Apex, circa 1775, versus the Whatchamacallit, circa yesterday.
Vintage Apex weight without fuel: 14.2 oz. Whatchamacallit: 2.5 oz

Those in the know pay a premium for ultra-light gear. The thinking goes: It pays for itself on the trail in more miles covered per day, less stress on the hips, knees, and feet, and a faster recovery each morning when you break camp and set out again. I was not in the know. For example, I planned to bring my Peak 1 Apex stove above, only to discover that a part I need is unavailable because Peak 1 discontinued the stove in 1894. But as much as I’ll miss its companionship, I now have a feather-light stove, and I’m sold on the difference in weight. The matter is resolved, yes?

No.

One must also consider the spork (spoon + fork = spork), a genius marvel of engineering invented by Obadiah Spork during the Revolutionary War. (I learned this on Wikipedia.)

show spork
Invented by Marcus Spork during
the American Revolution, the spork
is essential ulta-light gear.

Everyone needs a spork, so I went to REI last week. “Where can I find a spork?” I said. The salesperson led me to a remarkable selection and stuck around, too, not allowing me to browse for the right spork. Alas, I made the mistake of asking the difference between the $50 and the $3.99 sporks. “Isn’t a spork a spork?”

“Absolutely not. This one is titanium,” he said with the reverence one reserves for speaking of spiritual matters or sports cars.

“Of course,” I said, as if I’d forgotten titanium. “I’m short on cash. Perhaps the $3.99 spork will do.”

He sighed. “Sure, they’re your knees, after all.”

I left the store $50 lighter.

He’s right, of course. Shave a few ounces here and there, and they’ll add up to a pound. One pound on flat ground exerts up to three to six pounds of force on your your hips, knees, and feet. For example, if you weigh 170 (hypothetically, of course), you may put an additional 510-1,020 pounds of stress on your weight-bearing joints. (These numbers are correct. I found them on TikTok.) Going up or down, as the Appalachian Trail inconveniently does, adds even more force.

The bottom line? You can cut weight in your first aid kit, fire-starting materials, water filter system, sleeping bag, backpack, clothing, toothpaste, and much more.

I hope to travel light. AT thru-hikers — those who hike the trail’s 2,190 miles — carry packs as light as 10 pounds. A good backpacker’s pack weighs fewer than 20 pounds. And my load? Right now, I’m at 30 pounds…but there remains weight to drop. The first step? Replacing my knife, spoon, and fork with my $50 spork.

Feel free to weigh in with a comment.

About Malcolm W Campbell

Father. Husband. Writer. Teacher. Outdoorsperson. And something else... Forgetful?
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4 Responses to The AT Series: A Weighty Matter

  1. Pingback: In my grandfather’s footsteps… | Calls to Adventure

  2. Jon Pope says:

    I should have you guest teach my classes; your research skills are remarkable.

    I don’t know about titanium sporks, but I do know that if I can’t shed the world, the weight is too much. I have to litter the trail with cast-off conversations, funny looks, jostling elbows, almost weres, coulda beens, the thousand cuts of conscience, and, heaviest of all, smiling expectations. May every wilderness-pure breath lighten your load till your head bumps the clouds and your feet find the treetops.

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